Ronald Walters Loved Black Politics, Black Press

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By James Wright, Special to the AFRO, jwright@54.204.251.142

The trade association of African-American owned newspaper recently honored one of the leading scholars regarding Black politics.

On March 27, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) honored the late Dr. Ronald Walters, who was a Black political scholar, at the Thurgood Marshall Center in the District of Columbia. The event was also co-sponsored by Ronald W. Waters Leadership and Public Policy Center, Howard University, in conjunction with the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

Dr. Ronald Walters (Courtesy Photo)

“This is a special time to honor Dr. Walters,” Dr. Elsie Scott, the director of Howard’s Ronald Walters Center. “His spirit is in this room. I am happy the NNPA reached out to us. He loved the Black press and believed in the Black press.”

Walters was born on July 29, 1938 in Wichita, Kansas. In 1958, he led other young Blacks in a successful sit-in protest of the Dockum Drug Store in Wichita for refusing to serve African Americans and this took place two years before the more highly publicized Greensboro, N.C. sit-ins.

Walters graduated from Fisk University in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and eventually got a master’s degree in African Studies in 1966 and a doctorate in international studies in 1971, both from American University. He had teaching stints at Syracuse University and Princeton University and was a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University.

In 1969, he became the chairman of the Afro-American Studies department at Brandeis University. He came to Howard University in 1971 and became chairman of the political science department before leaving it in 1996 to become the head of the Afro-American studies department at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Walters served as an advisor to the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns. He wrote 13 books on Black politics and numerous articles on the subject. He had a column in the NNPA for decades and was a sought after radio and television commentator and public speaker.

Donna Brazile, whom Walters mentored, is a well-known national Democratic Party official and author. Brazile said she was blessed to have been able to work alongside of Walters, particularly

during the Jackson presidential campaigns.

“Ronald Walters was a scholar and intellectual,” Brazile said. “He gave us a historical reference to what we were doing. He could relate to what we were doing in the 1980s to how W.E.B. DuBois and Dr. Martin Luther King did in their times and how to use it in a democratic society.”

Brazile said that it was Walters that helped change the Democratic Party rules that eliminated “winner-take-all” primaries and opened the doors for people outside of the party leadership to participate in the party’s operations.

Dr. Ben Chavis, the president and CEO of the NNPA, moderated a panel discussion on Walters that consisted of Dr. Robert Smith, Walters’ close friend and confidant, Dr. Ray Winbush of Morgan State University and national radio talk show host Joe Madison.

Smith said Walters was the “perfect Black power man.”

“He showed us how Black power can reform the American political system,” he said. “Ron believed that Black people should work within the political system to change it.”

Winbush said that Walters was a firm believer in Black liberation and was a proponent of reparations.

“Ron Walters was firm on reparations,” Winbush said. “He believed Black people were due for the centuries of work put into this country without compensation.”

Madison said he first met Walters at the 1972 Black Political convention that took place in Gary, Ind., and was impressed by him then. Eight years later, they met again at a pivotal moment.

“I was in charge of voter registration for the NAACP as the political director in 1984,” Madison said. “My boss, Ben Hooks, told me not to attend a Jesse Jackson rally because of our organization’s status as a non-partisan organization. We had a private meeting where he told me how to register voters to help Jackson without getting in trouble with the NAACP.”

Madison echoed the sentiments of Scott when he said that Walters would go to the Black media first with news.

“When Ron wanted to say something, he went to the Black media first,” Madison said.